Journalists show average sensitivity on rights issues

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 June, 2002, 12:00am

Most Hong Kong journalists believe the media's role is to act as government watchdog, but more than 40 per cent say their bosses' priority is to entertain the public, according to a study released yesterday.

The survey into human rights representations in the news media by the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and Amnesty International found reporters had only an 'average' level of sensitivity towards rights issues.

Lisa Leung Yuk-ming, who chairs the Justice and Peace Commission, said journalists faced a constant struggle between sensitive reporting and market forces.

'There is a gap between journalists' disposition to human rights and corporate needs, and because of the bad economy they are less likely to challenge what their boss wants and this affects how they select and report on the socially disadvantaged,' she said.

'We are not trying to lay the blame entirely on journalists because there is also a social eagerness for voyeurism and because journalists are driven by market interests and what readers want.'

The study interviewed 288 reporters from 13 newspapers and five electronic media organisations from December 2001 to March this year. It found more than 57 per cent of journalists said their job was to monitor the Government, 31 per cent said they provided a public voice and almost 12 per cent said they were entertaining the readers.

But 43 per cent of reporters said their bosses wanted to provide entertainment. Only 35 per cent said their bosses wanted to monitor the Government and 16 per cent said they represented the public's voice.

On a scale from one - the least sensitive to human rights issues - to three, the most sensitive, the journalists scored an average of 2.05.

Journalists were most sensitive towards the disabled and people's sexual orientation. They had an average sensitivity to race issues, but were less sensitive to gender, poverty, police, mainlanders and prostitutes.

The study recommended journalists avoid using social labels, sensationalising news and pay more attention to human rights when reporting. It urged media organisations to find a more appropriate balance between market-driven forces and social responsibility.